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BOISE, ID-Albertsons executives released a statement saying that the supermarket giant is “exploring strategic alternatives,” which include the possible sale of the company. The grocer, which operates about 2,500 stores in 37 states, has retained Goldman Sachs & Co. and the Blackstone Group to assist in the process.

The most likely buyer would be a private investment banking firm, says George Whalin, president of San Marcos, CA-based Retail Management Consultants. For example, Texas Pacific Group and Warburg Pincus LLC are buying Neiman Marcus for $5.1 billion. Capital Partners Inc., Cerberus Capital Management, LP, and Lubert-Adler and Klaff Partners acquired the 257-store Mervyns portfolio from Target Corp. last year for about $1.2 billion.

“I think any time you have a major supermarket chain, it’s a pretty attractive purchase,” Whalin says, without venturing how much the grocer could command. “They’re pretty solid. They never lose money, and they almost never go out of business.”

Another possible buyer, he tells GSR, could be the Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., which operates just over 2,500 units in 32 states. Kroger could be interested because most of its stores are on the East Coast, while Albertsons has more of a Western presence. European retailers could also look at Albertsons, Whalin says, so that they can get a foothold into the US market.

Albertsons operates stores under the Albertsons, Acme, Shaw’s, Jewel-Osco, Sav-on Drugs, Osco Drug, and Star Markets, Super Saver and Bristol Farms banners. During the company’s latest reported quarter, which ended May 5, its year-over-year same-store sales rose 1.8%, and total sales grew 16%, to $10 billion.

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